(Self-) Reflection - a Highly Underestimated Skill

Reviewing the year at the end of the year is a tradition: Was it a good or a bad year? What do I want to do in the coming year that I didn't manage to do in the previous one? But reflecting on what has happened can also be very useful professionally. Detecon author and Future Learning expert Jaqueline Engels thinks that reflection should take place much more often as a basis for successful learning, improved productivity, and greater job satisfaction.

Sometimes we do it consciously and sometimes automatically: We reflect on what has happened in order to change something. To a certain extent, that's okay. But sometimes reflection is painful. Whenever you know that the reflection is not positive for you, for example in quarrels or when we have not done many things in the past year that we had planned to do.

Reflection creates empathy

In our self-reflection we observe our thoughts, feelings and actions and draw consequences from them. To become better, to feel better, to treat our fellow human beings better.

In private, we reflect on ourselves and our environment, as the pursuit of group belonging spurs us to question ourselves. But when do you use reflection in your day-to-day work? When was the last time you sat down and reflected alone or with your colleagues after a meeting, after a project completion, after a workshop?

Add "thinking" to learning by doing

In the work environment, reflection is an important lever for successful learning, improved productivity and ultimately satisfaction. Normally, in practice, it is often called "learning by doing", which means that we implement something and learn in the process. In principle, this is also true. Because of our mirror neurons, those nerve cells of the prefrontal cortex that are activated when you observe an action - yawning, for example - Bandura's "learning from the model" also works in exactly the same way.

Both help us learn, but one crucial component is missing: "thinking." When we perform something, we can perform it mindlessly, copy behavior, and move on. But it is better to think about it and question it.

Reflection increases performance

The Harvard Business School working paper "Learning by Thinking: How Reflection Aids Performance" provides exciting insights into this. Reflecting on actions taken increases performance. Various field and lab groups tested the extent to which performance, as measured by a Brain Teaser task, increases depending on whether subjects reflect on their solutions and failures, share their ideas for improvement with others, or are not allowed time for reflection.

The result is that a 22.8% increase in performance can be found between the groups that were asked to reflect or share their findings as opposed to those that were not given time to do so. A remarkable result.

Sharing reflective thoughts within the team

Let's think about what this could do in our day-to-day work. Consistently introducing reflection time, whether in a team or on our own, would increase our personal performance on the one hand and, on top of that, we could share the so-called lessons learned with colleagues and achieve a further effect from it. The importance of reflection and sharing ideas for improvement has a positive effect that has not been measured at all.

Unfortunately, it often looks different in practice. Everybody rushes from one meeting to the next, is involved in various projects and is happy if he/she is still able to keep all balls in the air. Unfortunately, reality ends up in this beautiful comic. We stick to the tried and true, don't press the stop button, pause to maybe create a better status quo with a little bit of calm.

Creating free space for reflection

What can we do to put an end to this? First of all, allow time for reflection. Our day, and especially our workday, always seems too short. Time flies and the tasks we wanted to do today just don't seem to end. But are these tasks really the ones that make sense? What added value is generated? Instead of rushing from one task and conversation to the next, sit down, take 15 minutes and ask yourself: Is what I'm doing right now adding value to my business? Is the task really of great urgency? Do I really need to answer these emails?

Be guided by questions

Once you've gotten into the habit of taking time for reflection - please keep in mind here that any new habit takes about 4 weeks to become routine - reflection should definitely make further inroads. For you personally, the following questions may be relevant: To what extent did I achieve my tasks today that I wanted to achieve? Am I satisfied with the result? What can I change about the general conditions, my behavior, my time management in order to end the workday more satisfied? Does what you are doing fit at all with what you want to do?

Together with your team or in your project you can ask yourself: how well did we manage to support each other as a team, to accomplish our tasks? When did we work particularly well together? What did we do particularly well or not so well in this project? What can we do to solve difficulties more quickly next time?

These and many other questions will help you and your team to find and learn how to perform better. Either alone for yourself or together.

Eliminate time wasters

First of all, ask yourself right now: what time eater can I change in my day to have more time for reflection? Is it the constant distraction of push notifications, scrolling through various apps, or constantly opening my email account? Surely, by critically questioning, you will quickly realize where the temptation of distraction leads you - and where reflection can enter for you.


Author of this article is our alumnus Jaqueline Engels.

Author of this article is our alumnus Jaqueline Engels.